On Town Meeting Day this week, voters in Burlington approved a pilot project to transform a busy four-lane street to try to enhance safety and traffic flow. While it passed city-wide, the plan was rejected by those living in the area near the planned project.
The North Avenue pilot will reduce the street from four lanes to two lanes while creating a turning lane, bike lanes and new crosswalks. Supporters believe it will improve safety for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists. But voters in the New North End, where the project is located, say it will make traffic congestion worse.
The ballot question asked residents across the city if the road should remain four lanes in the area targeted for the pilot. The plan was not popular in the two wards affected by the pilot, Ward 7 and Ward 4. 61 percent and 55 percent want the road unchanged, respectively. But overall city results favor moving the project forward.
Mayor Miro Weinberger says he is concerned about the number of people in the New North End who voted against the project. “It hasn’t changed my sense that we still need to go forward with this. We’re talking about changes that have the potential of reducing accidents, reducing property damage, really making that avenue a safer street. And I think we should still experiment with that.”
Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo notes that North Avenue is the site of most speeding violations and speeding enforcement in the city. “There’s a lot of car commuting that happens in the New North End. There’s a lot of bike commuting and it’s growing. Sometimes we find ourselves enforcing the traffic law because we haven’t engineered our streets as well as we could. And if the North Avenue pilot is successful it’ll show that there’s a way to engineer North Avenue that moves all sorts of traffic, that gets people to and from the north end of the city and downtown and that also does so safely.”
Opponents say they do not have a problem with increased safety or better bicycle access. Business owner and North End resident Michael Ly, who ran for the city council, says residents of the area are upset about the city’s process to implement the pilot. “I don’t believe it was an open enough process to allow those who had concerns or opposition to contribute to the process. I don’t think any neighbors are in disagreement about safety. So that’s actually not the disagreement. It’s a disagreement about how the process has happened and that their concerns have not been heard and that also some of the information being presented has not been fully transparent to the New North End residents.”
Mayor Weinberger hopes opponents will keep an open mind about the pilot. “I do hope that people who are skeptical or that have concerns will continue to keep an open mind until they’ve actually had a chance to experience this reconfiguration and see the data about traffic flow and about accidents, about safety, that comes out of it. And I hope people will give it that chance. People may be familiar with the intersection where Pearl and Prospect intersect. Two or three different formulations for that intersection, different lane configurations for that intersection, were experimented with and it’s working better and it’s been well received by the public. That’s what we’re envisioning here is a genuine experiment that will only stay in place if it delivers the benefits that we hope it will for the community.”
Ly says he’ll try to keep an open mind, but has difficulty curbing his doubts about the success of the reconfigured North Avenue project. “I’m willing to be proven wrong. If it ends up having negligent traffic effects that’s great. And if it ends up that more people are biking and more people feel safe that’s a great outcome. But my gut tells me and based on my living in the New North End for the past four and a half years and driving on that road and seeing what the traffic patterns are like in the morning and in the evening during rush hours then what’s going to happen is enough cars are going to back up and enough people are going to be upset about that. And I think the wait times are going to be longer than what they’re calculating or they’re sharing.”
The Department of Public works will conduct the pilot and plans to begin work on the project this spring.